LAKE TAHOE — Health care costs have been on the rise over the past few years, with health spending for Americans costing more than $8,000 per person, according to 2009 data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Making matters worse, about 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic condition, such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes, driving up the need for prescriptions and treatments that can add up over time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.However, saving money on your meds and your overall wellness doesn’t have to be a pain-staking endeavor. Here are some tips you can use to help lower your health care costs while still maintaining your health. Go generic: Ask your physician if there is a generic version of your medication. Generics, which are typically 30-80 percent less expensive than brand name drugs, are equivalent in dosage, form, safety and strength, according to the Food and Drug Administration.Generic alternatives for seven of the top-selling brand name drugs will be going off patent in September 2012, helping you save money on common medications, including blood thinners and cholesterol fighters.Benefit from mail-order medications: Another way to cut costs is to see if your health plan’s pharmacy benefit manager offers a mail-order pharmacy service. An alternative to traditional community pharmacies, mail-order prescription delivery provides 30, 60 and 90-day supplies of your medications shipped directly to your home, usually with significant savings off the regular retail price.Prevent chronic-conditions: The CDC estimates health care costs for chronic disease treatment account for more than 75 percent of national health expenditures. The ultimate savings tool is prevention. The most proactive things you can do are eating a healthy diet, exercise daily, avoiding tobacco and smoke, limiting alcohol use, wearing your seat belt and spending a big chunk of time each day with people you care about.In addition to building those good habits, get regular checkups and screenings from your physician. These visits are usually covered by most health insurance plans, and they can help monitor for and prevent chronic conditions before they become more serious and require treatment.In fact, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has made preventive screenings more available and more affordable than before. Under the act, Medicare and new private-insurance policies are required to either completely or significantly cover the cost of 45 medical tests and services currently shown to be most effective in early disease detection and prevention, such as mammograms, diabetes, colon cancer, prostate cancer and cardiovascular issues.Check out health plan discounts: Sometimes savings might be right under your nose — it just takes a little sniffing out. Health care plans often provide a number of health and wellness discounts — from deals on nutritional supplements to discounts on vision care — to help members keep their costs down.For instance, health benefits company Humana Inc. offers its members various deals through its online Savings Center, including discounts for everything from colds to heartburn medications. The Savings Center can also help you find discounts on other products and services to better serve your health, such as weight loss programs, laser vision correction procedures and massage therapy.— Dr. Mark Kiffer is a medical officer of Senior Products for Humana’s West Coast Region.
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